Lorraine Vivian Hansberry was an American playwright and writer. She was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. Her best-known work, “A Raisin in the Sun,” highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago.
Hansberry was born on May 19, 1930, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the granddaughter of a freed slave and the youngest of four children. Her father was a successful real estate broker, and her mother worked as a schoolteacher. Both of her parents were big financial supporters of the NAACP and Urban League.
In 1938, her family moved to a white neighborhood and was violently attacked by their white neighbors. However, they refused to move until a court order forced them to relocate.
Hansberry enrolled in a Southern black college instead of attending the University of Wisconsin in Madison, breaking the family tradition. She initially wanted to major in painting, but soon found her passion for writing.
She dropped out of college and moved to New York. Hansberry attended the New School for Social Research and worked for Paul Roberson’s progressive black newspaper, Freedom, as a writer and associate editor. She also found time to work several other jobs in her spare time.
In 1957, she joined the Daughters of Bilitis and contributed letters to their magazine, The Ladder, about feminism and homophobia. However, her lesbian identity was exposed in the articles, so she began to write under her initials, L.H., for fear of discrimination.
Hansberry began to concentrate on writing The Crystal Stair, a play about a struggling black family in Chicago, which was later renamed A Raisin in the Sun, a line from a Langston Hughes poem. The play opened at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on March 11, 1959, and was a great success with an ultimate run of 530 performances. The play was the first produced on Broadway by an African-American woman, and she was the first black playwright and the youngest American to win a New York Critics’ Circle award.